About the Jaguar
The third largest “big cat” after the lion and tiger, the jaguar has a stocky build, short legs and a broad head. The jaguar’s tawny fur has black rosettes that are more fragmented than the leopard’s and encircle small spots. The jaguar is an elusive, solitary animal whose markings provide excellent camouflage in its forest habitat. The name jaguar derives from the Guarani Indian word yaguara, which means “the beast that kills with one leap.”
After lions and tigers, jaguars are the third largest “big cat.” They have a stocky build, with short legs and broad heads. Jaguars have the most powerful jaws of all the big cats, and they’re also the only cat species that kills by crushing the skulls of their prey. They can even bite through turtle shells! Their tawny fur has black rosettes (rose-shaped and more fragmented then those of leopards) encircling small spots. These markings provide excellent camouflage. “Black” jaguars are common, and as with other melanistic (dark-colored) cats, their spot patterns are visible. The ends of their tails are striped, and their night vision is six times more acute than human’s under poor illumination.
Forest jaguars tend to be smaller than their open country counterparts.
Head and body lengths: 44 – 75 inches; tail length: 13 – 32 inches.
Height at shoulder: 27 to 30 inches
Male: 125 – 320 pounds
Female: 75 – 220 pounds
Jaguar diets differ between rainforest and open country, likely due to the lack of large concentrated game in tropical forests. Almost any species that these cats can catch will be eaten. This includes birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and carrion (decaying flesh of animals). Large prey such as peccaries, tapir, capybaras, deer and cattle are their preferred species. With large prey, jaguars will consume what they can and then cover the carcass with debris so they can return to it later.
Females reach sexual maturity between two and three years; males mature between three and four years. Gestation lasts from 91 to 110 days, and females can deliver up to four cubs, two on average. Unlike other feline species, male jaguars may stay on to help raise their young.
Jaguars are elusive, solitary and primarily nocturnal, though they’re known to travel by day. Unlike most big cats, jaguars love the water, and they’re good swimmers. They can climb trees, though their stocky build makes them less agile than "Old World" leopards found in Africa and Asia. Though they mostly hunt on the ground, jaguars will sometimes climb trees and pounce on their prey from above. Like other big cats, jaguars mark their territory through tree scrapes and urine.
Jaguars are only found near water sources and prefer dense tropical forest, lowland forests, swampy grasslands and deciduous mountain forests up to 8,000 feet in altitude. They cover a territory of up to 220 square miles and may travel up to 500 miles.
Today, jaguars range from northern Argentina to Mexico, but historically they’ve been found as far north as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and as far south as the tip of South America.
Average 17 years
Threats in the Wild:
Jaguars are the top predators in their range; humans are their only threat. Habitat fragmentation and loss, human encroachment and the fur trade are the main causes for their decline. Though legally protected in most of their range, hunting is permitted in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, where jaguars prey on domestic animals. Trophy hunting is permitted in Bolivia.
The elusive nature of the jaguar and impenetrability of their dense forest habitat make studies in the wild and number estimation difficult.
- Is it a jaguar or a leopard? The difference lies in their spots. Unlike leopards, jaguars have spots inside their spots (also called rosettes)!
- Central and South American mythology abounds with jaguar stories and legends. The art and culture of the Huichol, Olmecs, Maya and Aztecs depict the beauty and power of the jaguar.
- The word jaguar comes from the Guarani Indian word, "yaguara," meaning “the beast that kills with one leap.”